EVERYONE recognises that rugby league cannot bury its head in the sand and pretend that somehow if we carry on doing the same things, we will get different results.

We all love ‘our game’ but accept that it has been treading water as a product for years and has been overtaken in media profile, audience share and prize money by a number of other sports.

Yes, everyone surely accepts that sponsors, TV broadcasters, national newspaper editors and floating fans are not suddenly going to jump on board with a bit of window dressing.

Read: Devil's Advocate 1 Ditch Super League title and creat an elite competition 

The first piece issued in the Devil’s Advocate series a couple of weeks back was an interesting starting point for a debate but it made the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater on a couple of fronts.

Its first mistake was bringing up the M word. Merging clubs may have worked in the NRL with Western Suburbs and Balmain Tigers joining forces and St George teaming up with Illawarra – but that is different to British mergers where you would essentially be killing off a town team name.

Every single club in the English game would see that as the thin end of the wedge and suspect if they are doing that to them they could do it to us. It is hardly building security, let alone respecting tradition.

Yes, the first article made a big play of not being bound by tradition and was quite sniffy about some clubs – the ones in the former mining triangle of Cas-Wakey-Fev for one.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

But it failed to recognise that these places are heartland clubs for a reason. They are places where rugby league is in the DNA of everyone born and raised there.

Imagine trying to erase an area that produced such rugby league legends as Alan Hardisty, Keith Hepworth, Mal Reilly, Kevin Ward and the Fox brothers from the map because their areas are unfashionable and their stadia are too run down.

Give me a packed, noisy crowd at Wheldon Road any day before a couple of thousand rattling around in Doncaster, Sheffield or Barnsley.

You get the feeling that there are some who are simply looking at the state of the grounds as the silver bullet to demote these clubs.

Fev already have a decent ground and Cas and Wakey are both working on those so their critics had better find a better excuse.

And for a lot of these post-industrial towns, especially ex mining towns, rugby league is one of the only things they have that gives them identity and sense of town pride.

How callous would it be to strip those townsfolk of the thing that gives it pride; something that flies very much in the face of what rugby league’s founding fathers were all about?

And for what? Where is the certainty that by axing unfashionable clubs that the ones coming in would be any better and more sustainable.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

Matty Lees from Rochdale

It is interesting that even big clubs like St Helens still raid small towns like Widnes, Rochdale, Barrow and Leigh for young playing talent to put through their academy. There is something within the sporting tradition of those towns that keeps players coming forward.

Maybe it is tough towns that breed a tough sport, but how long would that production line continue if the pro or semi pro game was cut off for good in those towns.

We can all be in favour of expansion and being professionally run, but you don’t grow the game by cutting off the number of towns playing it.

What the game needs isn’t to simply allow the big clubs to pull away and say stuff you to the rest.

At the minute it seems like the headteacher just has eyes for the brainy kids in Super League who are bring in good results, leaving the Championship and League 1 clubs to play with the plasticine in the corner.

Nor – agreeing with the first Devil’s Advocate – should it make the mistake of being held back by what are termed backward clubs.

What it actually needs is a stronger centre; one that allows the big clubs to grow as big as they can and benefit from the TV deals it strikes, and the receipts from crowds.

But some of the money generated from the World Cups, test matches and Challenge Cup finals and semis needs to trickle down into those areas that remain strong nurseries for the game.

And what would help massively was if the centre of the game could put on more events that not only bring the whole game together but have the opportunity, with proper, effective marketing (And I am looking at IMG) to bring in some cash.

We need to look at the things that fans and players at all levels can buy into to ensure the whole game, our game, pulls in the same direction.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

It is not rocket science where to start – build the international game back up even if and when the Australians don’t want to play ball.

Rugby union have built the strength of their domestic game off the back of internationals that pull in followers that have previously had no interest in the sport. Internationals at any level get viewers, media coverage and profile.

It is a scandal that we play fewer internationals than we did in the 70s and 80s.

Beyond this year, we need more international games that fans of all clubs and of none can get behind.

The England v France game should become a two-test three test series spread at intervals in the season, played here and in France.

If you are a fan of Saints or Batley you can get behind that. Promote those games, grant special offers to season pass holders of supporters at all levels of the game and pack them out.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

Secondly, let us have another go at county rugby that genuinely builds on the rivalry between Lancashire and Yorkshire – even bill them as international trial matches.

And as part of the billing have a Cumbria v Southern Counties as an opener, and follow it with a Championship level War of the Roses clash.

Create a triple header that fans from across the whole rugby spectrum can buy into.

Third, restore the Challenge Cup to its former status by having all clubs in at the last 32.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

Anyone who saw the buzz that went around Whitehaven when Saints visited would realise that an event like that freshened up the fixture programme.

It also stops the same old faces reaching the final as the prospect of big teams drawing each other early doors allows smaller clubs to sneak through and have a day in the sun at the semi or even the final.

Again, for that to work we would need the marketing team to make sure that the Challenge Cup Final is pushed and promoted and is sold as the go-to event.

Otherwise we start with the negative of “the RFL will be terrified if so-and-so get to Wembley…”

As part of that Wembley needs to become the rugby league day out again – and to encourage that scrap Magic and divert all those weekend away followers to the games oldest competition final.

Fourth, bring in another round-robin cup competition, across the divisions and offer it to Channel 4, BBC or ITV. It could replace the loop fixtures that are universally unpopular, skew the league table but exist purely to give clubs extra income.

Those round robin home games could go on the season ticket. The final could be a showpiece event like the old John Player Trophy final.

Rugby league has been going a long time now, and yes it is treading water and faces challenges from a number of sporting areas and plenty of economic and social change ones too.

It does need to evolve, like the first Devil’s Advocate argued, but not by side-lining and dismissing those areas that have been its backbone.

We have two more Devil's Advocates in the state of the game series and then we will ask fans to vote on which option they prefer.